Although some experts have played down the value of any dismantling activity, move is seen as a confidence-building measure by Pyongyang
New satellite imagery courtesy of Airbus DS and 38 North dated July 22 shows the apparent dismantling of facilities at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in North Korea. Photo: Airbus DS + 38 North/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Satellite imagery shows North Korea has begun taking down its main satellite launch facility, an apparent confidence-building measure by Pyongyang amid concerns about the slow pace of progress on dismantling the country’s nuclear weapons programs.
North Korea has begun to raze its rocket engine test stand and a related building at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, the country’s primary launch site for rockets since 2012, according to new imagery published Monday by North Korea-focused website 38 North.
The move, which hasn’t yet been announced by North Korea’s state media, is an apparent follow-through on a promise that President Donald Trump said was made to him during his June 12 summit meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In the six weeks since that handshake, concerns have grown about North Korea’s sincerity in fulfilling its pledges as part of the detente—particularly following apparent delays by North Korea in returning the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War, the most immediate of the four points agreed to in the Singapore statement.
The moves to dismantle facilities at Sohae, on the country’s northwest coast, in contrast, “represent a significant confidence-building measure on the part of North Korea,” said Joseph Bermudez, an analyst for 38 North.
Mr. Bermudez, relying on commercial satellite imagery from July 20 and 22, said that given the progress of the activity, the dismantling had likely begun in the past two weeks.
“These facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program,” Mr. Bermudez said of the rocket engine test stand and a related building.
Even so, some experts played down the value of any dismantling activity at Sohae by the regime.
In addition to the long lag time between the Singapore summit and the activity at Sohae, it isn’t clear that Pyongyang’s dismantling of the engine test stand is irreversible, said Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert and associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.